The CEO of Charli AI banks on B.C. talent as Canada’s best in artificial intelligence

The Vancouver company's new Ancaeus platform brings generative AI to major enterprises.

Kevin Collins Charli AI

Credit: Charli AI. Founder and CEO Kevin Collins

The Vancouver company’s new Ancaeus platform brings generative AI to major enterprises

When your spouse wants to have your brain dissected just to understand you better, you know you’re ahead of the curve. And that’s exactly what Kevin Collins, founder and CEO of Vancouver-based software company Charli AI, says his wife wants after his passing.  

“For me, it just comes down to patterns, how things are working. I got the bug for that,” he says of his long-standing fascination with artificial intelligence. 

By grade 11, Collins, who grew up in Vancouver, was already taking apart computers like the Apple IIe to get into the circuitry of a machine’s decision-making process. He has since hardcoded artificial intelligence as one of his core interests, dedicating some 30 years to machine learning, both as an entrepreneur and a corporate executive.  

Before starting Charli AI, he was co-founder and CEO at Bit Stew Systems, a data intelligence platform in Vancouver that was acquired by GE Digital in 2016. As the CEO of Bit Stew, and even during the transition to GE, Collins recalls always relying on a chief of staff to keep his head above water. But that’s not a position that every company can afford. “We knew that we could solve this in the world of AI,” Collins maintains.  

The intention behind launching Charli (a play on “chief of staff”) in 2018 was to automate the work of an executive assistant, from performing admin tasks to writing reports and taking meaningful meeting notes. But the CEO admits that Charli is a bit more controversial than others in the AI realm: “Some people go, Well, this is going to take my job. And it’s like, No, what we’re actually doing is supercharging human decision-making.” On the contrary, according to Collins, one of Charli’s commercial real estate clients has been able to double its revenue, and instead of terminating people, has been able to better leverage employees who were in danger of burning out. 

Everything runs on the company’s new Ancaeus platform. What Collins wanted to do differently with this platform was maintain the interaction between the human and AI because “AI in a black box doesn’t work.” This means Charli is always taking learning from feedback—if you make a change to a report it created, it’s going to remember that next time.

Charli AICharli AI

It took a team of 15 of what Collins calls “true scientists, not just engineers” to build the deep tech behind Charli, which brings generative AI for enterprises in financial services and commercial real estate. A lot of Charli’s customers want to leverage the Ancaeus platform to analyze the content they deal with on the daily (such as researching, analyzing and preparing reports that would typically take a month to complete in two hours).  

The tech company’s current offerings include Charli AI Research, Charli AI Meetings, Charli AI Automation and Charli AI Bookmarks, with over 600 applications across various industries. Since 2018, its total staff of 30 have enabled Charli to scale from working with small players to Fortune 100 companies, including “all the major banks in North America,” as Collins puts it. In fact, he notes that there’s been a 20-fold increase in demand in just the last six months. 

“When you think about AI in Canada, that typically goes to Toronto and Montreal,” he says. “But the team that we have here is absolutely brilliant—they’re the best in the world. And it doesn’t get advertised a lot. The core team here, there’s no way I’d ever give up on them.”